Time to call out the airlines on their policy of bumping passengers

The issue of air travellers being denied their contractual right to passage that they paid for — and which has been approved right through the boarding process — has been in the news a lot these days. As it should be.

I happen to have family travelling abroad right now, and I’d like to see them arrive home safely and on time, considering the rather hefty cash layout we made for their tickets. So the issue is top-of-mind for me, too.

It’s rather odd that journalists have been so willing to accept the airlines’ assertion that their policies of overselling seats on air flights should be normal. For every story of weeping passengers being pushed out the door of jetliners, we read the obligatory paragraphs explaining that overselling is a normal business practice, and that overall it helps keep ticket prices down.

That, of course, is pure baloney.

Every oversold seat has already been paid for. And some twice. Where is the financial loss to the airline when a fully-paid-for seat is left empty at the last minute because a passenger simply hasn’t shown up for their fight?

The airline already has its money, in full. Unless there has been a cancellation within the rules of issuing the ticket, the airline keeps it money. In fact, airline profits would go through the roof if entire flights could take off empty, with no fuel costs, baggage costs or service costs incurred for actual passengers.

Do you see a disconnect here? If it is mine, I’d like a real journalist to explain that to me. If it is not, I can suggest the means for airlines to keep ticket prices low — or even reduce them. By replacing the policy of bumping passengers, with a policy of fully nonrefundable tickets.

Have you ever heard of people buying tickets well in advance to a concert or theatre performance, who then cannot attend for whatever reason, and then getting their money back? If you can’t transfer the tickets to someone else, you kiss your money goodbye. Happens all the time.

Airline tickets — for very good reason — are not transferable. They should also be absolutely nonrefundable, except through an insurance policy, which pays the cost for you, if you choose to pay extra for flight insurance.

That being the case, airlines are well able to stop selling tickets to all flights the instant the last seat is paid for. No refunds, no transfers. Nobody gets bumped. Ever.

An empty seat on a flight is therefore just extra profit for the airline on that flight.

We all know that some people buy tickets and don’t show up for their flights. That’s what standby tickets are for. It’s also what some genius earning a seven-figure salary, plus bonuses, invented overbooking for.

Airlines don’t want to expressly bump you off a flight you paid for. But they do want to sell your seat on the flight twice, ruin your travel plans — all for a time-limited nontransferable voucher for a discount to do it all over again.

Why has no one called them on this? This practice in any other industry would be called fraud, and court cases would rightly ensue.

I would like to see proof that an empty seat on an air flight represents a loss of income to the carrier. It can’t. The carrier already has their money, and if there is any cash recovery to be made, it should be made to the passenger through an insurance company.

An oversold seat is just double-dipping. Full stop.

Canada already has some of the most expensive airline tickets in the world, mile-for-mile. That’s because Canadian airport landing fees are among the highest in the world.

But there’s no justification for airlines to oversell their flights. Simply stop selling tickets the moment the flight is fully booked — and paid for.

If mistakes are made and passengers need to be bumped, each passenger should get his or her money back and a free seat on the next available flight by any airline to their destination, plus a cash incentive to volunteer to be bumped.

Cost of doing business.

It is amazing that people pay big money to travel by air, and are expected to act like chumps at the poor planning and poor customer service of airlines.

It is likewise amazing that we all are expected to believe fraudulent double-dipping ticket sales should be accepted as a normal business practice.

Greg Neiman is a former Advocate editor.

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